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Crew and Vessel under threat of arrest and seizure In Costa Rica
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2015-04-17 at 4:59:10 PM GMT
Posts: 3
Crew and Vessel under threat of arrest and seizure In Costa Rica

Thursday, March-12-15.


Crew of Maiatla threatened with arrest and boat seizure by Customs in Liberia, Costa Rica.


At anchor in Play Del Coco, Costa Rica. Our trouble started when we decided to leave Costa Rica and head back to El Salvador after a two and a half month stay.


We checked out with Customs, immigration then the Port Captain. All went well and we were given permission to leave. We then sailed a few miles up the coast to tuck into a nice little bay to wait for the Papagayo gale to blow its self out before heading back to sea. 


I had previously injured my left arm two weeks earlier in a bad blow near Puntarenas that had us running for shelter at a nearby island. We wanted calm weather now as not to strain my arm any further so we waited.


Well a few small weather windows opened up but each time we pulled anchor, (twice in the early morning and twice at sunset) and headed to sea we found that the weather reports lied and we got slammed with 30 to 50 knots of wind and big seas, the gales weren’t finished.


It was during this time that we developed a serious steering problem as the hydraulic pump would intermittently fail. Not a good situation during a gale. With no break in the weather in sight, with the steering acting up and my arm worse off for the ware, we decided to check back into Costa Rica. See a doctor and a boat mechanic.


We anchored without incident back in Playa Del Coco and went to see the Port Captain and immigration and we had no problems until we went to see the Customs agent up in Liberia, a 40 minute cab ride. The customs agent, Carlos was abrupt and arrogant when he said that we couldn’t come back with the boat and despite a physical injury, and a partially disabled boat and a fierce gale blowing offshore, we were ordered to leave the anchorage and NOW!


I protested but he was adamant, there was no provision in the law for us to return unless we had been gone with the boat for at least 90 days. Again he ordered us to leave.

As it turned out, we weren’t the only boat here in trouble with this guy.


Jim and his Canadian boat Meandher, from Kimberly BC was anchored near us and he also was under threat of being arrested by the same guy. The customs agent didn’t like Jim’s BC Vessel registration papers and demanded a new original copy issued by Transport Canada as he doesn’t recognize his BC registration papers and that if he didn’t produce them in the next few days he would be arrested.


When Jim said “Ok you don’t like my documents that every other country up till now has accepted, then give them back to me and I will leave”.


The customs agents reply was, “no senor, I think you stole this boat and you will not leave until I have the papers”. Jim was also forbidden to leave and only given a few days to get the required documents from Canada.



As this Carlos was reading the riot act to us, Janet began to cry while repeating that that the boat was unseaworthy and that I had an injured arm and needed a doctor then she again asked him what are we supposed to do? I think he may have softened, but just a little. “I tell you what lady, go anchor around the corner and anchor, get your provisions and get your boat fixed then leave, if you do that and I don’t hear about you, I don’t care.” He then told us to leave his office. TO do as he suggested would have been illegal and I suspected that he may have just laid a trap for us.


As Janet and I left, he then said that if we stayed in the anchorage he would have us arrested and the boat seized and nationalize. He then said. “Tell that other guy (Jim) that unless he has the document he wanted by tomorrow, he would send the police to arrest him and seize his boat.


We took a taxi back to Playa Del Coco then Jan and I had a rather heated and emotional discussion as to what to do.


I know legally they can’t force an unseaworthy vessel with injured crew back to sea. But this is a third world country and as is typical, the officials often change the rules to suit themselves and there is little room for appeal.


We finally decided to go back to immigration and the Port Captain get our international departure papers back, leave  the harbour and hide out up the coast a ways and see if I could get the steering fixed and wait for the weather to settle down. A reasonable plan but a new problem arose.


When we I went to see the Port Captain he told me that he and immigration need new documents from the customs agent before he could give us permission to leave. I told him what the customs agent said, he then called the Customs agent in Liberia and when he got off the phone her turned to me and said “Senor I think you need a lawyer!”


I got angry, what if I were to just leave?” I asked. The Port Captain said that if we attempted to leave without permission we could be arrested and he would the boat seized.


Ok new problem.


I have one government agency telling me to leave now or be arrested and two more tell me that I can’t leave, if I try I would be arrested. And if I did sneak out under the cover of darkness, arriving in the next country without proper exit papers could get us fined, arrested, and boat impounded or all of the above.


Jim, I and Jan sat in Maiatla’s cockpit to try and figure this out. Jim was all for running for El Salvador. He had already talked to customs and immigration there and explained our problem.


They remembered both boats as we cleared into Bahia Del Sol couple of months before and they said we could come back without our international Zarpe. Finally officials with some common sense. 


I couldn’t believe that here we were, making plans to sneak out of the harbour in the dead of night during a gale that was predicted to last at least another week and run 250 miles to El Salvador.  We had 20 to 30 knots whipping the harbour into a frenzy, I could well imaging what it was like offshore (been there before a few times).


But that’s what we were planning, on Running. I decided that despite my hurt arm, Jan wasn’t going. I called a friend who lived a couple of hours away and booked a cab to take Jan there. Jan could fly to El Salvador when I got there in a few days.


It was 1 pm and the best time to leave would be around 2 am so Jan packed her bag. I was mad as hell and couldn’t believe this was happening and all so fast. Jan and I stopped and took a deep breath to try and think this through. Jim and his wife, who was still in Canada both tried to call the Canadian Consulate there in Costa Rica but couldn’t get through but I thought I would try.


I called the consulate and somehow managed to get through. I was first told by the receptionist that this was not a consulate issue.


I lost it on her, “what do you mean? You have two Canadians on a Canadian registered vessel under threat of arrest for just being here and you say it’s not a consulate ‘issue! If this is not what the hell is?”


I finally got past the operator and talked to a now sympathetic consulate, she put me in touch with a lawyer with the Costa Rican Tourist Bureau and the nice lady said that she would check into it and get back to me.


I also called the Marina that I wanted to go into to get the boat fixed and they had their lawyer call the customs office as well.


Customs here has a lot of power and I was hoping that we weren’t just pissing him off even more.



I said to Jim that we need to give these people some time to do what they do and see what happens. Jim didn’t want to wait as the customs agent had already said that he would send the police for him tomorrow. We spotted a police car on the beach and the offices had Binoculars and were watching our boats at anchor.


So we waited but still got ready to run like hell. Anyway, I was surprised that at 4 pm I got a phone call from the Tourist Lawyer who told me that it was all just a “mistake” on the customs part. I can go back to the customs office and get an extension for us and the boat in the morning...



Friday, March-13-15


No-longer under imminent threat of arrest and seizure.


Jan and I went back to the one-agent customs office in Liberia to get our promised temporary import permit for the boat re-activated as we were told we could by the Lawyer from the Costa Rican Tourist bureau.


 We weren’t happy about the prospect of have to see “Carlos” the same customs agent that had just days before, threatened us with arrest and boat seizure, but if it meant becoming legal again we would face him.


As we got out of the cab and approached his office my final words with Carlos at our last meeting was playing in my head.


 “If you stay I will have you arrested!” and mine to him was, “Don’t worry, you won’t be seeing us again.”  That was just the day before and here were, about to confront each other again and I could only assume that he wouldn’t be too happy with me for getting the Canadian consulate, two lawyers and his boss involved.


As we entered the office I was pleasantly relieved to see that Carlos, the agent of all our troubles wasn’t there but another rather rotund fellow, named Marcus sat behind the desk.


Later I we would assume that Carlos’s boss had decided that another confrontation with us and his pissed off agent wouldn’t have been good, so he was pulled from the office, perhaps just for the day.


Anyway, with our cab driver as interpreter, Marcus explained that they would suspend our import permit until we got the boat fix and were ready to leave. So all was looking good. We just had to write a letter (in Spanish) asking for the suspension and bring it back to him in the next couple of days and he would give us a new permit. He re-activated our old one and sent us on our way.


All seemed good but as we left the office, Jan asked me, “Did you recognize him?” I thought he looked familiar but I couldn’t place him.


 “That is the guy that tried to shake us down for a bribe when we first landed at the airport in January.”


Jan was right. When we arrive back at the boat after Christmas, I had brought with me a bunch of boat parts and a small gas generator. Items up to $800.00 and for personal use (or for a vessel in transit) are supposed to be duty free.


It was Marcus that then said that taxes up to 65% of the value of the item was now due! But if I put some money in the generator box, he would “Inspect it” and he would stamp our papers. 


I was upset but being faced with possibility a several hundred dollars in taxes to pay, I had little choice. I discreetly pulled out my wallet and was about to slip a 100 dollar bill into the box when Marcus suddenly got very agitated and told me to put my wallet away and “just go.”


He quickly stamped my papers and sent us out the door as fast as I could push the cart. 


As we left the customs inspection area I noticed that a couple of people, one a women had just entered the room. I can only assume it was Marcus’s boss and he didn’t want to get caught shaking down the tourists.

So ultimately we were giving a visa extension and we had temporary repairs made to the steering the as soon as the first weather window opened up we made a mad dash for Chiapas Mexico and it wasn’t until we were well offshore that we began to feel safe again.


Back home in Canada I sent out a flurry of letters of complaint to The Costa Rican Embassy Customs and the Costa Rica Tourist bureau.


For Pica nd more information see our blog at

Last edited April 17, 2015
2016-04-29 at 7:14:30 PM GMT
Posts: 2
Wow! What an ordeal! Glad you got it all worked out.

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